American Crossword Puzzle Tournament


 Crossword Tournament

In the News

 

Several clue-answer combinations are revealed in this article.

Source: Bloomberg.com
Date: March 6, 2008
Byline: Caroline Baum

At Crossword Competition, One Rookie Is Clueless: Caroline Baum

March 6 (Bloomberg) — There are two types of people in the world: those who do crossword puzzles, and those who think the first group is nuts.

I'm in Group 1, having done the New York Times crossword puzzle for most of my adult life. How else would I know that ''amah'' is an ''Oriental nurse''?

Competitive puzzling was the furthest thing from my mind until I saw the movie ''Wordplay.'' If I was remotely aware of how long it took to complete a puzzle, it was only because a cousin of mine once said he timed himself to monitor any deterioration in his gray matter.

Last weekend, I tested my skills at the 31st Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which was held at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time and hosted, as always, by the New York Times crossword puzzle editor, Will Shortz.

My friend Judy May, an expert puzzler and eight-time ACPT attendee, had encouraged me to go (''It'll be fun!'') and bolstered my confidence throughout the weekend (''It's your first time!'').

The opening puzzle on Saturday morning is easy; I finish in 9 of the 15 allotted minutes. Puzzle No. 2 is challenging; I struggle to complete half of it in the full 25 minutes. It is humbling to see how little time it takes others to finish. (Contestants raise their hands when they're done, and a judge comes by to record the time.)

Puzzle No. 3 is fun. Entitled ''If I Wrote the Dictionary,'' by Merl Reagle, it features clues such as, ''n. the transforming of people into swine'' (answer: pigmentation), and ''n. the practice of kissing in parked cars,'' (answer: necromancy). I complete most of the puzzle in the 30 minutes allowed.

Synonym for 'Weirdo'

The scores are posted. After three puzzles, I am 614 out of 699.

I look around at the assortment of odd ducks in the room and wonder where I went wrong.

People travel from as far away as Hawaii and Switzerland to participate. I meet a Jack Kennedy and a Bob Rubin, a father- and-son team, and a man wearing a wedding dress and sporting crossword-grid earrings and nail polish.

The ACPT attracts a large number of lefties, both in political persuasion and dominant hand. Shortz says many attendees have remarked on the higher proportion of puzzling lefties relative to the population at large.

Word Meaning 'Dumb'

Men dominate the competition even though contestants are pretty evenly divided between the sexes. The ACPT has had only three female champions since its inception in 1978. Of the top 10 finalists each year, ''only two or three are women,'' Shortz says. ''Much more than in Scrabble.'' (Too bad Larry Summers didn't have those facts in hand when he tangled with the Harvard faculty three years ago on the paucity of women in science.)

The afternoon session features an easy puzzle, No. 4, which I polish off in 13 minutes (time limit of 15); the traditional killer, No. 5, which separates the ''puzzlerati'' from the ''puzzleplebes'' (guess which category I'm in with barely a third completed in 30 minutes?); and No. 6, which I finish in 24 of the 30 minutes.

Contestants get 10 points for every correct word and 25 bonus points for each minute they finish under the allotted time.

My ranking improves to 572, barely in the top half of the bottom third.

''Judy, I can't believe all these people are smarter than I am,'' I say.

''Just think what you do when you AREN'T doing puzzles,'' she says.

Uh-huh. I'm writing financial commentary while they're composing symphonies, creating computer code and dabbling in electronic circuitry.

One Down Rookie

The last puzzle Sunday morning is a typical Sunday New York Times theme puzzle. I'm stumped by one section and use the entire 45 minutes to finish. Tyler Hinman, 23, wins the championship for the fourth consecutive year, a record.

When I get home that afternoon, I check my final ranking online: 562. Even among the rookies (first-time attendees), I'm 163 out of 237, in the bottom third.

Demoralized, I sit down to read the Sunday paper, but I can't seem to focus. I grab the magazine section, find a pen and turn to the crossword, the last thing I expected to do after a weekend of intense puzzling.

Before I start scribbling, I glance at my watch. I guess I'm in training for next year's tournament.

(Caroline Baum, author of ''Just What I Said,'' is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)


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